Cuba’s Opposition: A Silver Bridge to Miami

Fernando Ravsberg*

Cuban dissidents camped out in front of the Spanish Foriegn Ministry.
Former Cuban prisoners protest in Madrid, requesting financial assistance from the government. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Recently, I met with the Cuban dissidents who have set up camp outside of Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, demanding the resumption of financial subsidies which, in their view, the Spanish government is duty-bound to pay them for an indefinite period of time.

They have been camping in front of the Ministry for over 400 days and have not yet received a reply from the authorities. The negotiations have ended: they are convinced that Spain must continue to subsidize them and Madrid insists that, having enjoyed 18 months of government aid, they must now find a way to make a living, like the rest of us mortals.

What’s more, the highly prosperous community of Cuban émigrés in the United States could well help their liberated comrades, those who, till recently, were heroes enduring prison under communism, in whose name declarations were written and public protests organized in Miami.

The problem could also be solved expeditiously if the United States granted these dissidents asylum, as it has done with thousands of Cubans through the Cuban Adjustment Act. But Washington says that’s completely out of the question: they’re already living in a democratic country and, as such, have waived the right they had when still living in Cuba.

In some cases, however, U.S. authorities prove to be far more compassionate, as they evidently were when they granted political asylum to the family of Oswaldo Paya, the Cuban dissident who perished in a car accident while campaigning across Cuba in the company of right-wing European political leaders.

The first version of events we heard was that the family had requested political asylum with a view to settling in Miami. However, they soon declared they would continue to work within the movement founded by Oswaldo and that they would travel to the island occasionally as part of these efforts, availing themselves of the Cuban government’s new and laxer immigration legislation.

Trying to lead an opposition movement in Cuba from abroad isn’t novel, but attempting to do so from Miami, combining the life of an exile with regular excursions to the island, shows some creativity. Such leadership, however, will not likely prove efficient, which is perhaps the reason Oswaldo Paya never opted to reside abroad.

The European politicians who were with Paya when he died declared they had travelled to Cuba to act as advisors for the creation of right-wing youth movements. Rosa Paya, Oswaldo’s daughter, seemed like the perfect leader for an organization of this nature: a young, pretty woman who is articulate (provided she doesn’t get too excited).

Following Oswaldo Paya’s death, she was put forth as the natural continuator of the Christian Liberation Movement and the Varela Project. The young woman and Paya’s other children drew some media attention after accusing the Cuban government of assassinating their father and for the vehement demands they continued to make as the heirs of the political movement.

For months, she led a vigorous campaign to be allowed to travel abroad. She was one of the first to travel, after the government finally normalized its travel policy. When she left, she declared she would return to Cuba to continue her father’s struggle. Later, however, she apparently changed her mind and took the rest of the family with her.

“We’re here as political refugees, but our stay here (in Miami) is temporary,” Rosa Paya told the press. Her words recall the declarations made by several generations of anti-Castro activists who have been leaving the island for over 50 years, never to return.

Oswaldo Paya’s children denounced the Cuban government before going into exile in Miami. Photo: Raquel Perez
Oswaldo Paya’s children denounced the Cuban government before going into exile in Miami. Photo: Raquel Perez

Cuba and the United States have been clashing over immigration policies since 1959. In Washington’s version of events, every Cuban who leaves the island is fleeing from communism. Havana, on the other hand, insists that the “migratory perks” offered by its northern neighbor are part of efforts to drain the country of human resources.

Time has demonstrated that the Cuban Adjustment Act has benefitted Cuba more than it has the United States. It works as an escape valve which opens from time to time to let out the most disaffected, precisely those who would have constituted a fertile breeding ground for opposition activities.

It also steered many political leaders and figures towards leaving the island, from dictator Fulgencio Batista’s acolytes to today’s dissidents, through those who took up arms against the government in the Escambray mountain range, clandestine paramilitary organizations and the wealthy, who left for Miami to wait for Uncle Sam to solve the problem.

Of the 250 political prisoners who were released thanks to a campaign headed by the Church and the Spanish government, only 12 decided to remain in Cuba and continue in their opposition activities. The rest packed their bags, gathered their relatives and headed for Spain, convinced they would be able to hop over to Miami from there.

For over fifty years, the United States’ immigration policy has sucked dry the pond where the island’s opposition could have swam, depriving this opposition of a base and a leadership. What’s curious is that, afterwards, Washington diplomats ask themselves why dissident movements aren’t prospering.

Havana continues to kick up a fuss about the Cuban Adjustment Act while allowing its political adversaries to leave the country, be it to live on the streets of Madrid, as though homeless, or beneath the protective skirts of the United States. The situation reminds me of the old proverb which says one should build a silver bridge for the enemy that flees.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by

10 thoughts on “Cuba’s Opposition: A Silver Bridge to Miami

  • Sports people and artists are in a better position than most Cubans to take advantage of the wet foot / dry foot policy (see the Una Noche case). The government isn’t directly involved (did I say they were?), but as well as private recruiting there are exile groups who consciously try and create defections for political reasons (this is well documented). However the government must approve of this situation otherwise why do they keep this policy.

    A sensible approach would be to treat people as they really are – asylum seekers as asylum seekers, economic migrants as economic migrants, tourists as tourists and illegal immigrants as illegal immigrants.

  • Cuban trained health workers do not get special preference. Their training is sub-standard and does not relate to US medical practices. A Cuban trained “doctor” is equivalent to a US registered nurse, but without the specific job training. This fact comes as a big shock to many Cuban doctors who emigrate to the US only to discover their MD doesn’t mean much.

  • Dani, don’t believe everything Fidel tells you. Health professionals enjoy special consideration. Athletes do not. However, athletes are recruited by private, non-government organizations. In the US, there is a big difference between what the NY Yankees do what the government does. Athletes and artists get no special attention when seeking to emigrate.

  • This is for both of you. It’s not me separating Cubans that fear persecution from those that are either economic migrants or pissed off with their government. That is US categorization. And the fact remains they don’t give them political asylum. If you want to claim that all Cubans that leave are persecuted, then that makes the policy worse. Not only do they refuse political asylum to them but they send a lot of them back to face more.

    The conscious policy of recruiting sports people etc has been well documented and the targeting of doctors on international missions is well known and has been dealt with here on HT.

  • To live in Cuba is to live with political “oppression”. It is a “de facto” claim. Officially, US policy does preference medical professionals seeking asylum, however, sportsmen and musicians are treated like any other Cuban.

  • You are deliberately trying to confuse the issue.

    Any Cubans stopped at sea are returned to Cuba, unless they can produce compelling evidence their life is in danger if returned to Cuba. Cubans living in other countries are not granted asylum in the US, as they are deemed to be living in a free country already (ie. Spain).

    Any Cuban who arrives in the US, whether an athlete, artist or a simple worker is granted automatic asylum, as per the Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy.

    The only “conscious policy” compelling Cubans to “defect” are those of the repressive Castro dictatorship. Tens of thousands of Cubans leave the island every years, choosing freedom and a hope over tyranny and despair.

  • Funnily enough Cubans who claim to have suffered political oppression in Cuba and are stopped at sea (less than 100 overall according to US stats) aren’t granted asylum in the United States. On the other hand there is a consious policy to try and entice sportsmen, musicians and doctors to defect and everyone who makes it to US soil is considered a political refugee.

  • Leaving your country because of persecution is a calvary for Cubans, not a silver bridge. I also don’t think that the Paya enemy is fleeing. It is changing tactics.

    The author is correct though that this move is an interesting challenge to the current “reforms” of the Castro regime. Let’s say they are calling a bluff.

    Dissidents returning from international trips were harassed (Eliecer Avila), had items decommissioned (Manuel Cuesta Morua) or had people intimidated from meeting them (Beta Soler). Every movement is a photo-op. Every day abroad is a communication benefit.

    I can not criticize the Paya family for seeking some respite from harassment and abuse. I hope they will, as they said, continue the struggle for human rights in a novel manner.

  • I disagree with Fernando that the wet foot/dry foot policy has benefitted Cuba more than it has benefitted the US. Fernando, like many Cuba-centric writers on HT see the conflict between the US and Cuba only as a zero sum game where if one side loses the other must be a winner and vice versa. However, this is not always the case. As Cuba ‘loses’ dissident leaders who choose to migrate to the US because of favorable immigration policies, another equally qualified leader steps up. The Castros continue to be opposition’s best recruitment tool. As a result, there continues to be an increasing number of dissidents in exile better able to support financially the dissident community left behind. The continued lack of organization and increase in numbers of the dissident community in Cuba is owed to the strength of the Castro regime in oppressing the opposition through infiltration of these groups and through disrupting communication between groups. Technology continues to improve the Cuban dissidents ability to overcome these obstacles however and the capacity to demonstrate a more unified front improves daily. It is hard to believe that the Cuban Adjustment Act, which has facilitated the departure of countless artists, athletes, high-level government officials and other well-educated, well-trained and productive members of Cuban society can be seen as benefitting the Castros. No doubt, societal misfits, criminals, and ne’er-do-wells have also left Cuba under this program, but the overall count is still heavily weighted towards those Cubans who would have been a help and not a hindrance to Cuban society. My Cuban wife was a well-known national TV newscaster. Although she emigrated to the US under a family visa, she is more representative of the kind of Cuban most likely to leave Cuba. Well-educated, fully-employed and in her most productive stage in her life. My gain is certainly Cuba’s loss. The Castros public opposition to the CAA is no ruse. It has cost them valuable and productive people.

  • An interesting column, but it is rather insensitive and irrational to blame the US immigration policy for “sucking the island dry” of dissident leadership. When the alternatives are prison, death either by firing squad or some extraordinarily peculiar accident, or to go into exile, it’s only natural for people to choose to live free. How many millions of refugees around the world chose to flee to safety rather than to die under dictatorships?

    While it is true that the regime benefits from the fact the US takes in Cubans with open arms, it is the Castro regime alone who are to blame for the conditions which have driven one fifth of the Cuban population into exile.

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